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Climate Change

Japan's Koizumi ups climate ante with goal of 40% renewable power

Proposal is roughly double nation's current target range for fiscal 2030

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi is leading Japan's push to embrace renewable energy. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

TOKYO -- Japan's environment minister has proposed increasing renewable power sources to more than 40% of the nation's energy mix by fiscal 2030, about twice the government's current goal.

"These 10 years will decide whether we can achieve carbon neutrality by 2050," Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters Tuesday, referring to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's goal of reaching net zero emission of carbon dioxide.

Renewables accounted for 18% of energy consumed in Japan in fiscal 2019, around half as much as in major European economies.

Japan's current renewables target stands between 22% and 24% by fiscal 2030. But the National Governors Association has pushed for a goal of more than 40% by 2030, and a growing number companies are planning to switch entirely to renewable power.

"There's been a rallying cry from the demand side," Koizumi said.

Koizumi's announcement reflects rising international momentum behind measures that go toward implementing the Paris climate agreement.

Countries are to bring an updated target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, called nationally determined contributions, to the annual United Nations climate change conference to be held next November in the U.K. European and other nations have boosted their reduction goals with a view to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

The U.K. aims for a 68% cut by 2030 from 1990 levels, and the European Union for a 55% reduction. Meanwhile, Japan in March said it would stick to its previous goal of a 26% cut by fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013.

Laurence Tubiana, France's former climate change ambassador and an architect of the Paris climate accord, criticized the decision at the time as "disappointing."

Koizumi himself faced backlash over Japanese exports of coal-fired power plants at the previous U.N. climate summit in Madrid in December 2019. He was criticized for his performance at the event, particularly his inability to respond quickly to pointed questions from international reporters.

After that experience, Koizumi worked with Suga, then chief cabinet secretary in Shinzo Abe's government, to change Tokyo's policy on exporting coal-fired plants. He also advocated for the 2050 net-zero target.

The new 40% proposal for renewable energy is seen as crucial for testing Japan's commitment to the 2050 target. "We will work with partners like the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to increase the share of renewables in our energy mix," Koizumi said Tuesday.

Koizumi's announcement may also be an attempt to demonstrate his clout in the government as a whole.

However, the response from within the economy ministry -- which has sway over the electric power sector -- is mixed. While the ministry supports maximizing renewables, Japan does not have much flat land or shallow seas suited for solar and wind farms. Questions also remain regarding the potential costs to the public.

"It's not impossible for us to get to 40%, but it'll be difficult to do it by 2030," one ministry official said.

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